We hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body.
2 Cor. 4:7-10
In the Xaverian Fundamental Principles we are reminded:
You were created by the God of love
in His image and according to His likeness,
to be a unique expression of that love.
It is through you
that He desires to manifest His love
to the peoples of the world in these times,
and to offer them the freedom
of the children of God.
It is as a unique image of God that we are able to manifest God’s love to the peoples of the world in our time. This is why there is an inextricable link between our being continually in formation, in our growing realization and expression of the unique image of God that we are and the integrity of our personal and shared mission, our manifesting of God’s love to others. St Paul reminds us that our way to continually releasing into the world the treasure that is the image of God within us is through “carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body.”
Occasionally when I have been seriously ill, I have experienced a lack of anxiety and a calmness that have greatly surprised me. Presuming I am not in serious pain, there is a certain kind of freedom and openness in sickness that is often lacking in more physically healthy moments. I think one reason for this is that when I am unable to meet the demands of the day, I cease to experience them as a cause of anxiety. There is no need to “perform” because I am incapable of it.
Often, including in our attempts to minister “God’s healing touch of love to those whom we meet on our journey of life,” we are performing our work in both senses of the term. We are both attempting to do our work, to respond to the need at hand, and we are also performing to some degree in service to our own sense of self and to how we are perceived by others. Sometimes we are aware of our performing for others, and, at other times, we are performing in service to our own unconscious drives for significance, to become worthwhile on our own terms. In short, our works are often more a reflection of our attempts at self-creation than they are a manifestation of God’s love through the unique image of God that we have been created to be and to offer to the world.
It is our suffering and our woundedness, in body but also in spirit, mind, and heart, that remind us that we hold the treasure that we are in an earthen vessel. It is in the experience of brokenness that we discover a life and a work that passes through us as a channel of God’s love for the world. As our perennial struggle for significance and for an acceptable and approved identity is stilled, we experience a potency for care and service that we could never even have imagined. This is what Paul means when he says that “the surpassing power may be of God and not from us.
Many years ago as novices, we practiced a custom called the “Chapter of Faults” by which we would publicly accuse ourselves of faults we had committed during the past day or days. On one day there had been, as was not unusual, a fracas if not a minor brawl, on the soccer field. That evening one of the novices announced: “My dear brothers, I accuse myself of not getting out of the way.” At the moment most of us had to work very hard to stifle a laugh. Yet, as I have reflected over the years, it may actually be quite a pertinent perspective from the point of view of our human and spiritual formation. It is a lifelong task to learn how to get out of our own way. All that is part of the pride form in us, all that has its own ideas of who we want to be and be seen to be, is always getting in the way of our being “the unique expression” of God’s love that we have been created to be.
In the mornings I often take 20 minutes or so to watch the news headlines of the day. This morning there was a story of President Trump speaking yesterday before a large gathering of Boy Scouts. I found the story profoundly disturbing and saddening. He began by noting that it was no place to talk politics, and then he proceeded to speak about how many were there and that the size of the crowd would not be reported, of how President Obama had never appeared before a Boy Scout jamboree, of how his Director of Health and Human Services had better get votes in the Senate today or be fired, and on and on. Most of all he spoke about himself. There was much laughter and applause and apparent approval from the very young crowd. Yet I wonder what is the effect in the long run of such an experience. Rather than appeal to the better angels of their natures, rather than attempting to inspire them in such a way as to evoke their aspirations to contribute to their society and world, the President of the United States rather spoke to their competitive, envious, partisan, selfish, and resentful tendencies. I am saddened to think about the using of these young people for one’s own advantage and the resultant deformation rather than formation of their spirits, and even more saddened and concerned for what may be the irreparable damage to our sense of public service and leadership. The question here is not political, in the partisan sense, it is rather ethical and spiritual. We condemn professional athletes when they fail a certain standard that we set for a “role-model,” and yet we seem now to have no such standard for political and civic leaders.
What occurred yesterday at the Boy Scout Jamboree, with not only the speaking of the President but the cabinet officers and other public figures laughing behind him, speaks to the action of the demonic when we are unable “to get out of the way.” The hundreds if not thousands of Boy Scouts were but props or objects for the President’s self-promotion. Such a setting of so many young people calls out for a word of love, healing, and inspiration. it is a gathering of untold potential for our future as a people. These young people stand before us as an appeal by which God is calling us to “manifest his love” for them. To recognize the appeal of another and a situation, however, requires that first we “get out of the way.” We do this, at least in part, by forgetting ourselves, by turning our focus from our own needs, hurts, wants, and status to the appeal of the actual person and situation before us.
Every single concrete moment of encounter is an appeal to us to manifest, in a way only we can, the love of God for those before us. As St. Paul discovered, however, we are not able out of our own strength to respond to this appeal. Yet, he also discovered that what we are unable to do from our own strength, can occur out of our weakness. The work to be done is God’s work. Our greatest grace and gift in life is that we are called to mediate that love. But, first of all, we must get ourselves out of the way. When our earthen vessel breaks open, it is no leas than the glory of God that breaks through. The other doesn’t need me; he, she, or they rather need to know God’s love for them. When they recognize that love in our weakness, they can then realize that their pains, limits, failures, sinfulness are no deterrent to the power of that love in them. When we no longer need to be something we are not, we then offer to others the love that is in and for all of us, as we are.
Nobody escapes being wounded. We all are wounded people, whether physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually. The main question is not “How can we hide our wounds?” so we don’t have to be embarrassed, but “How can we put our woundedness in the service of others?” When our wounds cease to be a source of shame, and become a source of healing, we have become wounded healers.
Jesus is God’s wounded healer: through his wounds we are healed. Jesus’ suffering and death brought joy and life. His humiliation brought glory; his rejection brought a community of love. As followers of Jesus we can also allow our wounds to bring healing to others.
Henri J. M. Nouwen, The Wounded Healer